I wanted to take a look back on the month that was and see if there is any connective tissue to be found. Mostly, i’ve blogged about various brain-based mechanisms and speculated about how they might be applied to adult learning.
The common elements seem to be neurotransmitters in stimulating reward centres and mirror neurons in giving us a kind of empathy. I learned that through your gaze, through chocolate, through feeling safe, or through kindness, we start a cascade of chemicals in our brain and that all these things can be harnessed to not only give learning more impact, but it can increase its depth of its encoding in the brain and with an emotional context, even increase its importance to the brain through Amygdala activation.
The other common element is like the biological basis for empathy, with mirror neurons seemingly tricking our brain into believing we are having the experience of the other person, well what we think they are experiencing anyway. What amazing implications this has for role playing, simulations, so on. These mirror neurons are equally activated by representations (eg eLearning) as they are by actual experience!
So heres a look back on these speculations.
Leading and following avatar eyes
When you lead someones gaze with your own it stimulates the reward and motivation centres of your brain. When you follow someone elses gaze, it stimulates those parts of your brain responsible for imagining another persons thoughts. An avatar is telling a story about an accident in which a worker loses an arm in a chainsaw accident. As the story unfolds, the avatar gazes to the left and an image appears of a person looking at their watch, holding a chainsaw, with a chain guard in pieces at their feet and contemplating a stack of logs. This may stimulate the learner to reflect on what caused the logger to lose an arm. Were they under time pressure and so decided not to put the chain guard on the chainsaw?
Alternatively, the avatar could be made to simulate â€˜followingâ€™. Imagine a game on-screen where the avatar explains the rules of the game and then begins. In the game the learner must be the first to identify the correct object out of several on screen by clicking on it. The avatar could gaze at the various options, making comments about their thoughts on each possible answer, revealing their interior dialogue to the learner and possibly mirroring the learners thoughts. You could delay the discovery of the right answer by the avatar, so that when the learner clicks the object, the avatarâ€™s gaze moves to the correct object and it declares that it has found the object, but the learner found it first.
Cognitive dissonance and visualisation
If we are asked to walk and press a button in our imagination, it takes just as long as if we did it in real life, but moderated by our expectations (so if we erroneously expect it to take longer, then it will in our imagination, but not in real life). Consider cognitive dissonance theory. If we posit a situation that is in line with their old beliefs and ask them to visaulise it, they may be so laden withÂ expectations (and the sensory experience is so real) about how it will turn out, that it distorts their visualisation of the situation. Resulting in a pretty unrealistic outcome or vision. Then when we invite the learner to execute the same situation in real life, the dissonance will be so much the greater.
Enlisting the subconcious in conscious learning
Plant and load – Place ideas in a learners subconcious by asking them not to think about them. Then when the learner is placed under a heavy mental load, these ideas inevitably surface.
Mirroring â€“ By modeling the actions, behaviours and so on we wish the learner to aquire (and assuming they have at some point executed those behaviours previously), their brain responds as if they were actually doing it themselves.
Laws of human nature and collaborative communities
ParkinsonsÂ law of triviality â€“ Nobody talks about important issues, in case theyâ€™re wrong â€“ but theyâ€™re happy to talk about less important issues, as they carry less risk. So start with less important issues, on which stakeholders are likely to have opinions, but issues on which they feel safe to comment.
Student syndrome â€“ People generally underestimate how long a task will be, and generally people miss deadlines because they leave things to the last minute. Assign student tasks at the last minute to put them under pressure.
Pareto principle -Â 80% of the dicussion being generated by 20% of the learners. Make them a moderator to recognise hier power and value. Have learners determine which 20% of the task to do, to get 80% of the results desired.
Salem hypothesis â€“ Education in the engineering disciplines forms a predisposition to creationist viewpoints. Know thine audience and operate (at least initially) within its worldview.
Crafting rewards in learning activities to release neurotransmitters
Chocolate â€“ Chocolate triggers the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Reward learners with it and encourage them to eat it immediately, thus initiating the chemical release and creating incentive salience. Use smells in the same way to key into pleasurable memories and frame an activity within an emotional context.
SecurityÂ â€“ For intense training activities where participants are emotional, be sure to do a follow up activity, that re-establishes the learners in a safe space, dampening their cortisol levels and stimulating reward centres.
Kindness â€“ Use peer-based learning. When people do something for someone else it releases oxytocin, the chemical helpful in reducing stress and bonding humans.